Thursday, September 08, 2016

Great British Bake Off Series 7, Episode 3 (Recap With Spoilers)

I know, you're beginning to think I can't blog about anything but bake off! But this week, following a long day of medical tests and evaluations yesterday, I needed to relax early with the newest episode.

It was bread week in the tent this week, always one of my favorite weeks. Emcee Sue was back to her regular job of co-hosting with Mel. Paul and Mary were in their usual challenging form as judges, with Paul seeming like he'd gotten out of the wrong side of the bed on day one. Mary chastised him for grumpiness, and he made contestants cry, bite their lips, sigh, look anxious, and sometimes just laugh rather helplessly. Bread is his specialty and seems to bring out an extra layer of arrogance in Paul. I honestly thought some of his harsher comments were unnecessary, but then I much prefer Mary's honest but usually thoughtful critiques.

The week's three challenges included:

  • The signature bake, which was to create any kind of chocolate bread they wanted (they were given two and a half hours)
  • The technical bake: the creation of a dozen dampfnudel (plural apparently dampfnudeln), which are steamed German dumplings (they also had to make plum sauce and vanilla custard to go with them)
  • The showstopper bake: plaited bread centerpieces that used three different kinds of flour
I mentioned the time limit on the signature bake because it seemed to me that every single baker could have used an extra half hour. I understand the time limits are there to test them, but when you set ten good bakers a task that most of them can't seem to complete with much success because their breads are "underbaked" or "just need a few more minutes," then I'm not sure it's entirely fair. The one who seemed smartest was ginger haired Andrew, who chose a simpler bread recipe than everyone else and only had to proof it once (proofing, or proving, means to let the bread rise). Everyone else had a two proof bake which resulted in underbaked loaves; Paul kept throwing the word "raw" around, which seemed to make most of them twitch in annoyance or embarrassment.

In fact, he made Candice cry by refusing to even eat her chocolate and salted caramel brioche.To be fair, one he realized he'd made her cry, he backpedaled and tried to be encouraging, but it was a bit too little too late. I appreciated that Rav came over and gave Candice a hug after that. Paul glared at the smallness of Rav's cardamom, chocolate, and hazelnut loaf, but ended up complimenting him in the end (it was small enough that it actually baked through, unlike some of his fellow competitors' loaves). Paul actually got into an argument with Benjamina, who was making what she called a babka with what sounded like a great flavor combination of dark chocolate, almond, and tahini. Paul insisted that what she was making was not a babka but a couronne, but she wouldn't back down. No matter, she underbaked it and he stayed so grumpy when he tried it that he actually told her that its consistency was like wallpaper paste.

Paul likewise seemed initially unhappy that Andrew was only proving his chocolate chip barmbrack (a traditional Irish bread) once, but in the end he decided it had been a smart choice and approved both the taste and texture. He and Mary both liked Tom's bake too, especially his flavors -- chocolate, orange, and chili. Tom has definitely moved out in front as the baker who knows his flavors and isn't afraid to experiment. Michael tried putting chili with his chocolate too, but the balance was off and they thought it was too strong. Jane, who seemed tired and worried for much of the first day, made a couronne (a crown shaped loaf of bread) but spread her yummy looking chocolate mixture a little too thickly. Once again, it was declared underbaked.

If it seems like the name Paul has come up a lot, it has! It was definitely a Paul focused week, which continued into the technical, where he chose the bake they had to do. This week it was an odd but interesting one: steamed German dumplings called dampfnudel, which none of them had ever heard of (me either). It's worth watching the historic segment in this section, where Mel travels to Germany to learn about the bread's history. It's also worth watching to see lovably goofy Val, who has not had a consistent series, rise to the top (pun intended) and win the technical. She's the oldest baker left in the tent, and made a laughing and gracious comment about having had more years to learn to make dumplings than any of the rest of the them. Andrew continued his solidity by coming in second, red-lipsticked Candice redeemed the collapsed loaf and tears of the morning by coming in third, and Tom continued his strong day by coming in fourth. Selasi, who seemed a little off all weekend, finished fifth.

And on we go to the showstopper. The rainy first day gave way to what looked like a bright and sunny spring day...the cinematographer got in a lovely Wordsworthian shot of yellow daffodils before we got down to business with plaited loaf centerpieces. Happily, most of the bakers did well (or at least better) than they had the day before, with some of them turning out really lovely bakes. My favorite by far was Kate's gorgeous braided angel loaf -- if she had managed a better first day, I don't think anything could have stopped her from winning star baker. Andrew made an incredibly cool looking rye basket with a braided handle, which apparently also tasted good.

Tom made a very weird looking thing that was supposed to be Thor's hammer and featured all sorts of odd but apparently bold and once again delicious flavors, including the use of seaweed. He knocked it out of the park texture wise. Michael tried to draw on his Cypriot heritage in serving up plaited breads featuring olives (the breads were shapes that symbolized the flag of Cyprus) but apparently both taste and texture were all off. 

Jane's pesto infused plaited bread was beautiful and apparently scrumptious. Val fell flat with a creative idea for a Noah's ark with animals. The animals were apparently hard to tell apart; in fact, Mary wasn't sure where the ark ended and the animals started, and Paul once again declared it raw, though he conceded it smelled amazing. Benjamina won back Paul's respect with wonderfully designed bread whose flavors of herbs and onions and well baked texture won her the accolade of "gorgeous" in triplicate. I loved the lovely smile of relief and delight that spread over her face when she heard that! Selasi's breads were hit or miss (some got "well dones" and others not) and they weren't pleased with the overall design or plaiting. Similarly, Candice was told one of her loaves was good and the other was a complete mess, leaving her absolutely sure she was the baker heading home.

But in point of fact, it wasn't Candice who got the boot this was Michael, the youngest baker in the tent. His struggles throughout the weekend really seemed to culminate in the showstopper, over which Paul and Mary couldn't seem to find one good thing to say. Star baker went to Tom, which surprised me a little (though I'm not sure why, as he'd been solid all weekend) but not as much as it surprised him. He seemed downright shocked, and of course thoroughly pleased.

What do I think will happen next? I'm not sure. Val keeps managing to slip through to the next round despite inconsistencies. She's such a likable lady that I can't help feeling glad, but I keep thinking the next week could be the week she doesn't make it. Likewise, I've not been hugely impressed in the past couple of weeks with Selasi. He's such a nice, relaxed man, but his relaxation doesn't always seem to serve him well when it comes to details. Rav impressed me a lot more this week than he did last, so I think I'd put him safely in the middle for now. Candice has it in her to do excellent things, but she is so hard on herself that I'm not sure how far she'll make it.

My favorite bakers currently are Andrew, Kate, Benjamina, and Jane, probably in that order. I would have awarded Andrew star baker this week. Tom's bakes keep not impressing me visually as much as some of the others, but apparently they taste amazing, so I think he needs to stay in the top tier. Plus as Paul reminded us in this episode, in every series so far, the star baker from bread week has ended up in the final. So there is that to consider.

On to batter week! That's a new one for the bake off and I'm not sure what to expect. Among other things, it looks like they will be making pancakes and using oil fryers in the showstopper. It should be fun. Then again, it always is. 

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